As usual, the City BBQ was on time along with the corn muffins and sweet tea, only this week your Tuesday football presser in the Bob Goin Team Meeting Room featured a new speaker.
He is your interim head coach, Jeff Quinn who left his "O-line" sweats and jacket in the locker room and sported the "GQ" look in his mass media debut (or maybe that's the "JQ" look?).
Jeff Quinn ain't Brian Kelly, he'll tell you as much. But, he attacked the podium just like an offensive lineman/former wrestler would---he hit us in the mouth right away and began driving his point home. He acknowledged that he's "interim", but made no bones about wanting the job full-time.
He also thanked the guy that he's worked for the past 21 years who now sports more green (in his wardrobe and wallet) Brian Kelly.
"No one man and no coach has ever done more for this football program, this University, than Brian Kelly," said Quinn. "He's done an outstanding job and we should credit him for a lot of the work and where we are today. Our focus now is to work on congratulating our football team on being 12-0 and getting ready for the Sugar Bowl."
Fortunately, for Quinn and UC, this isn't uncharted water. When Brian Kelly left Central Michigan for UC in '06, Jeff Quinn stayed behind and guided the Chippewas to the Motor City Bowl win. Then, he came to Cincinnati to see the Bearcats into the International Bowl in early '07.
Now, the situation has similarities, but the stakes are much higher. Those bowls were rewards for "also rans", the Allstate Sugar Bowl means your program is one of the best in the country.
"The coaches and the players need to circle the wagons," said Quinn (already with the coachspeak down). "It's a tremendous responsibility and a tremendous challenge for me."
The challenge will be getting everyone on the same page as the author of this book decided to forgo the final chapter last Thursday prior to the team banquet. That left coaches and administrators in precarious positions and players with hurt feelings.
Fortunately, Mike Thomas has kept the current staff in tact (minus Kelly) and that continuity should help aid the team in preparation. After all, as some of the disgruntled players noted after being informed officially of Kelly's departure, they made the plays on the field, not Brian Kelly.
If you think about how almost a completely new staff got UC ready for that International Bowl after Mark Dantonio took just about everyone to Michigan State, you have to feel good about this situation. It doesn't make it any easier, but if ever a group of players wanted to prove a point--now's the time.
The Bearcats will have five
practices prior to Christmas and then will reconvene after a holiday
break to head south and get ready for the Florida Gators in the Sugar
Bowl. Not a bad platform to prove your worth if you're Jeff Quinn. He's obviously reached the point to where he'd like to "call his own shots" if the right opportunity came along.
While it may not be here, Quinn's presence and answers for the media gathered Tuesday showed that he's ready to step forward if the right thing came along.
For those worried about recruiting, all prior commitments will be honored. "Right now, nobody has reneged on that," said Quinn.
For those worried about the backlash of what happened Thursday night at the Westin, with several seniors expressing displeasure....
"This now becomes their football team," said Quinn. "We've talked to them from the beginning, it's their time, but not their team. Now, we need in the family structure to be able to move forward and have those young men step up. Be professional, be mature, be responsible young men and obviously a lot of work is going to need to take place with our seniors. I'm going to rely very heavily on them and I trust them."
Something different about this interim appointment is that Quinn is slated to lead the Bearcats into the Sugar Bowl regardless of the result of the coaching search. When Mark Dantonio left in '06, Pat Narduzzi was made the interim. However, once Brian Kelly was named head coach, Narduzzi left to join Michigan State and Kelly's coaches were left to staff two bowl games.
"The only way I'm not going to be there is if I'm sitting next to the dear Lord above," joked Quinn. "They're not going to take me that soon. I've made it clear and we have an agreement that I will coach this football game regardless and our coaching staff and entire support staff will be here."
While much has been made over the departure of the head coach, the feeling around the hallways is the players now want to finish the plan, finish the job, finish the process. Many stated as much in defiance the other night. If ever there were a time to turn anger into positive energy, it is now.
"These kids came here to compete at the highest level," said Quinn. "We asked them to follow the plan and they have done that. At 12-0, one of the top football teams in the country, these young men are great competitors as I am."
Quinn believes that competitive edge can be built upon and wounds that were opened after the Pitt game can be healed quickly. That's exactly why he gave them immediate time off and had them return to their families. He needed them to be consoled and guided by family and role models that have influenced them in the past. With their return, he hopes his influence can guide them to a Sugar Bowl trophy.
"This is going to be another unique situation that I'm going to learn an awful lot from," said Quinn. "What I do know is I'm going to be true to who I am. We need to rally the troops on the 'next man in' mentality. I'm no different than Zach Collaros, we didn't know what Zach could do until he was put in that position and here I am today. I'm not going to be any different than who I am. I'm a very compassionate, competitive son of a gun and I love UC football and I love the Bearcats. I have to finish the detail this season."
That detail now means being the "face" of the program for the time being. Quinn joked afterward that his mother often complained about not seeing him on TV. Now, he'll be front and center in all HD glory complete with his diabolical plays that he's drawn up over the years with Brian Kelly.
Only now, after designing the machine, he gets to drive.
"We all knew that Brian made the majority of the calls and he was the one directing--I will assume that role," declared Quinn. "We will still have our entire offensive staff, Charley Molnar, Tim Hinton, outstanding football coaches, up in the box giving me advice up there. Then, I'll have Lorenzo (Guess) and Coach (Greg) Forest on the sideline. I'll call the plays, then I'll have my input from my coaches as we've done."
While the actual play-calling part is an added responsibility, those close to the program know that Quinn has been very "hands on" with the design and implementation of what you've seen work on the field. 21 years of creativity and ingenuity is essentially crammed onto an elaborate, laminated card.
"All of the things that Brian has on that sheet, those are the work of Jeff Quinn and our offensive coaches," clarified the UC interim. "With his great football mind, he (Kelly) had his ideas of how to attack teams and how to put points on the board, but the bulk of the work week-to-week was done by myself and our offensive coaches. We gave him the menu and he took the menu and had a feel for what he wanted to do. The good thing is you have the guy that did all that work and now I have an opportunity to make those calls on January 1st."
At the very least, it's
a well-deserved opportunity for Jeff Quinn. After 21 years, he
obviously is looking to branch out on his own and it's not everyday
that you get handed the keys to a 12-0 team with this kind of firepower.
It could be the
perfect ending to a perfect season...and a perfect springboard for something else should Jeff Quinn explore his options.